In the jaded eyes of some a few years ago, the Boston College Eagles were the salesmen who couldn’t quite close the deal. Bridesmaids. The team that knocked on the door, but rarely got through.
In the 10 years from 1998 through 2007, the Eagles appeared in seven Frozen Fours, losing twice in the semifinals and advancing to five championship games.
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Except that in those five title games, the Eagles lost every one except in 2001.
They knocked on the door but remained out in the cold.
The Eagles fell in 1998 to Michigan 3-2 on a soft goal after hitting the crossbar in overtime. Two years later, they led North Dakota 2-1 entering the third period but …
They couldn’t close the deal.
The 2001 title finally put a glorious end to the “Curse of the ’49ers,” BC’s championship drought that had dated all the way to the second NCAA tournament in 1949. The 1998 and 2000 bridesmaid finishes were forgotten.
Until 2006 and 2007.
In 2006, the Eagles hit the post with one second remaining and lost to Wisconsin 2-1 in front of an overwhelmingly partisan Badgers home-state crowd.
As heavy favorites a year later, BC fell to Michigan State 3-1, prompting hypercritical observers to dub one of the most successful programs in college hockey near-perennial bridesmaids.
Overly harsh? Without question. Absurdly harsh? Quite possibly.
Some fans would give a left arm or perhaps a kidney for their school to achieve such heights.
But 1-for-5 stung.
“You just have to keep knocking on the door,” BC coach Jerry York said before the 2001 breakthrough; the mantra reemerged following the crushing 2007 loss.
After York’s first national championship in 1984 at Bowling Green, he got sage advice from legendary Wisconsin coach Bob Johnson.
“He said, ‘Jerry, I’m going to tell you one thing, that when you win a national championship, now you have a blueprint as to how to win more of them,'” York recalled. “He said, ‘It’s incredibly important that once you win one, that you sit down and go back over what type of student-athletes you had at that particular time, what your practice plans were like, what your goals were like.
“‘Look at everything [your team] did during the course of the year and that’s your blueprint. That will enable you to win more national championships.'”
So York continued to apply the same blueprint that got his team to the 2001 title and the other four door-knockers, confident that he was using the winning recipe.
“I think that some of those losses easily could have been more championships,” he said. “Sometimes I think we could have won nine [by now]. Other times, we might not have won any of them.
“If you get to the title game and you play very well, that’s the blueprint. And if you keep knocking on the door enough times you’re going to win.
“When you get to the final game and almost win it, you’re this close. The lesson was just keep going. You don’t need to change anything. You almost beat Wisconsin. You almost beat Michigan State.
“Everything was in place. Now you look for a little puck luck.”
Five years later, the program is the envy of all college hockey. BC has won three national championships in five years, a feat unmatched in this era. You have to go all the way back to Denver in 1958, 1960 and 1961 for the last school to pull off the feat.
“College hockey really is so hard right now,” Ferris State coach Bob Daniels said. “There are so many good, quality teams.
“I think Boston College is special. And for them to win three out of five is really — I mean, that’s something. It’s wonderful what they’ve done. I think it’s somewhat unprecedented. It’s going to be hard to duplicate.”
In the end, Bob Johnson was proven right in his advice to York, and York was proven right to stick to his blueprint. Arguably, the agony of the 2006 and 2007 heartbreaks provided subtle, hard-to-discern and perhaps subconscious, tweaks to the blueprint, if nothing else just adding experience to the championship puzzle.
But in the end, that same basic blueprint has produced success unseen in this era.
“We’ve been knocking on a lot of doors,” said York.
Over the last five years, the Eagles haven’t just been knocking on a lot of doors. They’ve been breaking them down.